A man in a light blue shirt and a green lanyard smiles at the camera. Beside him is a sign with the MSD logo.
Dave Connolly. Image: MSD

Why ‘having the courage to speak up and challenge’ is vital in biopharma

22 Jul 2022

MSD’s Dave Connolly spoke to SiliconRepublic.com about the importance of being willing to experiment and learn new ways to overcome problems.

Dave Connolly is head of the manufacturing science and technology organisation at MSD’s digital, single-use technology facility in Dunboyne, Co Meath. His primary job is to deliver the company’s new biologics portfolio of medicines.

He told SiliconRepublic.com about what his role entails, including the work he does with the team at the new biologics facility.

He also discussed the skills he uses on a daily basis and the ongoing struggle he has with balancing his short-term work and long-term strategising.

‘It doesn’t matter where you work, we have a one team mindset’

If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?

At MSD Dunboyne our work is quite different each day, depending on the priorities of the new products and the needs of our operations. Our site has been built as a cutting-edge facility with the latest technology to enable this flexibility: all our equipment is mobile, and the design is like an open ballroom.

However, I do work with many of the same teams every day, including the bioprocess laboratory, where we introduce scale-down models to mimic the large-scale processes that produce medicines; the bioprocess engineering team, which installs the new process into operations; and our analytical science and technology team, which works across all areas to develop new analytical methods for testing and build the necessary laboratory systems for the products as well.

I also partner very closely with new product introduction leaders who manage all aspects of the product programmes. These enterprise leaders act like conductors to make it all happen.

Beyond MSD Dunboyne, I also work closely with the global MSD network to progress strategic change programmes, for example transformational charters to enable rapid launches or projects to build unique technology platforms for the future.

Another aspect of the role is our partnership with MSD’s new Biologics Innovation Xceleration (BioNX) facility, an MSD research facility that is co-located on the MSD Dunboyne campus and which will help drive innovation on site even further.

Making the most of the proximity between our site and the new BioNX facility, we have a shared tech forum with R&D to agree common approaches to how we work, build new capabilities in continuous biologics, and identify opportunities for talent to gain experience across other areas of the business.

When you put it all together, no two days are the same.

What types of projects do you work on?

The types of projects I work on can be very varied, including process development studies, large-scale biologics process improvement, analytical method transfer and development, facility fit projects to identify future capital investments, new product introduction and more.

We also have a strategic five-year roadmap of projects aimed at preparing MSD Dunboyne for the future and ensuring we remain at the cutting edge as we move forward, and these opportunities are great to gain business and technical project experience.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

Leadership and collaboration skills are critical and are needed every day to ensure we are aligned as a team and that our goals are clear, enabling us to win as one team.

Technical skills in science and engineering are also foundational to help us understand the new product pipeline, while ensuring we act with urgency during a new product launch – since it is all happening at least twice as fast as the past!

For us at MSD Dunboyne, we believe being willing to experiment and learn new ways to overcome problems is also very important. We have a culture centred around collaboration, creativity and invention, and invest in our people accordingly to make sure they can thrive in their roles.

I also believe having the courage to speak up and challenge how we are working today is vital. I always encourage challenge as it drives the changes we need and enables our vision of leading-edge science to save and improve lives around the world.

What is the hardest part of your working day?

The hardest part is balancing the work that needs to take place over the coming few days and months, with the future planning that has a five-to-10-year view.

You need to be disciplined to find the right balance and to make the right decisions for the business. I need to stay in strategic mode, particularly for the investment decisions that we make for future technologies.

Do you have any productivity tips that help you through the working day?

We work very tightly as a team, so we divide and conquer as much as possible across all areas. This is important for the efficiency of our team, and we use strong communication processes to enable this way of working.

We need to keep our experts focused on science, analytical science or engineering as much as possible, as that’s where the greatest value is created.

When you first started this job, what were you most surprised to learn was important in the role?

Over the past 20 years in biopharma, and in the different areas of the business where I have worked, whether it is biologics, rare disease therapeutics or traditional pharmaceuticals, the most important aspect in all of them is people.

Having the right team of people with you and to always have a strategic outlook is what makes a difference.

At MSD Dunboyne and across the MSD network, I am very lucky to work with extremely talented leaders who have impressive expertise, who accelerate the development of our talent and are so passionate about what they do.

How has this role changed as the pharma sector has grown and evolved?

The role has become more enterprise-wide, more holistic in outlook over the years. One example of that is how all our scientists, engineers, analytical scientists, system experts and product leaders are co-located together in one team for delivery of the new product pipeline. This allows us to move faster.

We are now co-locating our team with R&D for even greater speed. The BioNX facility at the MSD Dunboyne campus is unique in that sense and is a first-of-its-kind set-up outside the US.

The other element of the sector that has changed is our approach to the assignment of work. At MSD Dunboyne, we have an agile organisational model, where people ‘flow’ to the most important priorities for the business. This creates visibility on priorities and provides people with more exposure to different areas of the business than before.

It doesn’t matter where you work, we have a one team mindset. This allows us to move quickly, and to remain flexible and adaptable in an always-changing environment, enabling us to better meet the healthcare needs of tomorrow.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

I love working with talented and passionate people at our site and all across the network, creating partnerships to launch the most innovative biologics for the first time. I also enjoy seeing what is coming in five years from now, being part of what’s next: whether it is new skills, technologies, or both, and understanding how to be ready for them.

Personally, having the chance to develop new cancer medicines is one aspect that gives me a real sense of purpose. Having lost very close family members to cancer, it inspires me more than anything.

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